• Brae Buckner

    In the south, wild quail hunting was once the most prestigious form of hunting there was. Quail hunters were typical southern aristocrats that had old money, top-of-the-line bird dogs, and a caveat of horses that they rode through the trails searching for the prized Bobwhite quail. It was a tradition like no other, passed down from generation to generation in the deep south. In the 20th century, you could hear the familiar “bob-white!” call ringing throughout the southern United States. Even Ernest Hemmingway brought to light the sacred traditions of quail hunting through writing about his visits to his wife’s family’s hunting land in Arkansas.

    wild quail - alabama quail 300x228 - What Happened to the Wild Quail?

    Bobwhite Quail at Great Southern Outdoors

    So why is the call of the Northern bobwhite so rarely heard today? The population of wild quail in the south has dropped roughly 85% in the last 50 years. This is not due to over hunting, or even to predation. This is due mainly to the loss of habitat in the Bobwhite quail’s native range. Bobwhites need an early successional habitat, with an abundance of bunch grasses and enough cover to keep them safe from predation. When Bermuda and Bahia grass was introduced to promote increased grazing among cattle farms, they pushed out the native grassland habitats that are detrimental to quail survival. Historically, farm lands were the perfect habitat for quail. Open areas to hunt for insects and consume seeds, edge habitats for nesting, and tall enough cover to hide from predators. Once non-native grasses were introduced though, this habitat was decimated. This left wild quail susceptible to predation and starvation.

    Biologists have encouraged landowners to evaluate their seedbanks and promote the growth of native warm season grasses back on to their properties. This has shown a slight increase in the number of wild quail, but because this is only happening on a small scale, it has created isolated populations that cannot interact with other Bobwhite populations, and therefore cannot increase the overall population of the birds on a larger scale. Because the lifespan of wild quail is only about one year, these animals are not surviving long enough to produce large numbers of offspring in the wild. This game bird has been studied in depth for years and years, and yet there seems to be little chance of ever getting the population of wild quail back to where it was just a few decades ago.

    While wild quail hunting is not quite what it once was, there are still many opportunities to keep the tradition alive. In the south, quail hunting is still a serious business, and many plantations still manage heavily for quail habitat. Pen-released birds have been able to keep up with the demand for hunting, and often begin establishing themselves and reproducing in the wild. With our attention turning to the efforts of successfully managing for quail populations in the south, the call of the infamous Bobwhite will not soon be forgotten.

  • 3 comments

    i miss the call bob white

    Reply

    My grand mother kept a shot gun by the back door to her Alabama farm house, as did a million other grandmas. The life blood of every southern farm was a milk cow and chickens. Anything that threatened chickens and their eggs got unceremoniously shot. Foxes, hawks, owls, snakes, skunks, coons, possums, you name it. If it could prey up ground dwelling birds it was eliminated. Those farms and grand mothers are long gone now, and all of the varmints listed above have thrived. Quail, their eggs, and chicks do not stand a chance. When I bought my home and its' acreage 23 years ago, the call of Bob White was heard loud and clear from 4 covies. The havitat here has not changed a bit. Habitat for quail is plentiful in the south. Just get off any main road and millions of wild acreage can be found. Shoot a hawk or fox these days and you might go to jail, even though they have killed our quail. Not sure if there is a solution, but recognizing the problem would be a good place to start.

    Reply

    I've lived my entire life in the south, and I can recall good numbers of quail here in Alabama up till about the 80's.. Along about that time there were several changes that I noticed as the quail numbers began to fall. The first thing, and I believe one of the most important, is farming and farmers going bust. Open fields that were once being farmed were replaced with large areas of pine trees. Another thing I noticed around the same time was a huge increase in the number of hawk, coyote, fox and bobcat. As the yrs went by here in the south, I saw fewer and fewer quail but more and more preditors.. even opossum and raccoon will catch and kill quail, so the bird is on the menu of most carnivores and omnivores. As far as climate change goes, as a boy I recall hot summers and warm winters in the 60's all the way through till today. So, I wouldn't say it's not a factor, but I would probably say it's not the factor. Something that is much more prevalent today is the use of insecticides.. Almost every household uses some form of insecticide or another.

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